Beautifully restored Fordson New Performance Super Dexta

Posted by Chris Graham on 10th July 2024

Bob Weir meets Mike Roberts for a closer look at his beautifully restored Fordson New Performance Super Dexta.

Super Dexta

New Performance Super Dexta: Despite fierce competition from the likes of Massey Ferguson, the Dexta racked up in excess of 200,000 sales.

Ludlow is a market town in south Shropshire and boasts history dating back to medieval times. The town is the gateway to the Welsh Marches and contains hundreds of listed buildings. The borough is also home to plenty of vintage and classic tractors.

Mike Roberts has lived in the area all his life. He is a retired technician and has been involved with tractors for many years. “I started working on the land when I was 15,” he told me. “By coincidence the farm was located quite close to where I currently live. I then moved to another holding near Craven Arms and, during that period I became familiar with McConnel machinery and ended up working with the company for 35 years.”

McConnel Ltd was launched in 1935 and has grown from a small shed in Martley, Worcestershire, to a world-leader in green-maintenance, remote control and cultivation technology. The USA-based Alamo Group took over the company in 1991.

Local business
The company has been based in Ludlow since 1950 and was the first to launch a tractor-mounted hedge-cutter. Further innovation followed, including parallel and high-reach arm geometry, Variable Forward Reach and hands-free cruise control. The company has been involved with remote control technology since 2011.

Super Dexta

Mike and the Fordson back in the day, with young David behind the wheel.

“My job took me everywhere, including a short stint in France,” said Mike, who is a member of the Teme Valley Vintage Club. “I eventually took early retirement at the age of 60. Nowadays I do a bit of part-time work at Ludlow racecourse, which usually involves driving a tractor. I also spend time restoring my tractors, and I also enjoy taking part in ploughing matches.”

Mike has had a passion for old tractors dating back to the time he used to work on farms. “Like many enthusiasts, I started off restoring stationary engines,” he explained. “Working on those machines is a great way to learn about different aspects of practical engineering. I used to travel around to vintage shows most of the summer and, looking back, it was great fun!

“Although I enjoyed playing around with stationary engines, I then moved on to tractors. I acquired my first machine – the Fordson New Performance Super Dexta – in 1995. I then owned some David Brown tractors for a brief period. They had plenty of good points, in particular the engines but, in the end, I decided to move them on.

Super Dexta

The Dexta on its arrival with Mike, back in the mid-1990s, wearing McConnel trade plates.

“After that I bought my 1960 Massey Ferguson 35, which I came from the local cricket club. I also own an unusual Ransomes CT445 compact tractor, which used to work at Ludlow racecourse. I believe the tractor is a badge-engineered Shibaura, and that fewer than 40 units were made.”

Brand of choice
By 1960, Fordson had become a tractor brand to be reckoned with. The basic Dexta was restyled that year, with the headlights being incorporated into the grille. The model then became the Super Dexta and was given a more powerful 39hp engine. The new variant still retained its blue and orange livery, until the New Performance version made its much anticipated debut at the Royal Show, in 1963.

The NP Dexta still retained most of the model’s plus points but, to freshen things up a bit, power output was increased to 44.5hp and the tractor was finished in a new corporate blue and light grey colour scheme. This range-topping machine also saw the Simms fuel injection pump switched for a superior Minimec unit. Yet, despite all the accolades, this final incarnation of the Dexta was dropped in September 1964, together with the Fordson name. 

Super Dexta

The skid unit and partially stripped engine in Mike’s workshop. He did most of the restoration work himself.

Mike bought AFO 268B from a builder in Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire. “He’d fitted a front loader at some point, and the Fordson was being used as a yard tractor,” he recalls. “It spent most of its time loading sand onto the builders’ lorries.”

According to Mike, the owner had bought the tractor new from Fordson dealers, Prince & Pugh Ltd, in Knighton. “The owner had kept the tractor for 31 years, which I suppose is a long time for any working machine,” he added. “I saw it parked at his premises and my first impression was that it looked a bit tired and in rough shape. However, I’d been looking for a restoration project, so asked him if he had any future plans for the tractor.”

Hard sell
Initially the builder wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the idea of parting with the Fordson, despite the fact there was a newer International tractor standing in the yard. “He told me he hadn’t decided what to do with the Dexta, which was a bit disappointing,” Mike said. “The Fordson had obviously been replaced as a workhorse by the International, so perhaps he wanted to keep it for sentimental reasons. I definitely wanted the machine, so went away to plan my next move.”

Super Dexta

The most significant change to the tractor’s mechanics was the replacement of the Simms fuel injection pump with a superior, Minimec unit.

In a flash of inspiration, Mike decided to take his 13-year-old son, David, when he next visited Tenbury Wells. “Despite his young age, David was very keen on tractors and was also very handy with tools,” Mike explained. “I went back to see the builder and, this time, got a better response. He asked me whether David would be helping with the restoration work and when I answered ‘yes’, he agreed to the sale. The tractor also came at a reasonable price.”

Mike’s Dexta was one of the last New Performance models to come off the Dagenham assembly line and was registered on the October 23rd, 1964 (D 927070). “I trailered it back from Tenbury and unloaded the tractor at my father-in-law’s house in Bromfield, just outside Ludlow,” he said. “I then drove the couple of miles home, wearing McConnel trade plates.”

The Dexta’s drew a lot of admiring glances from passers-by, even back then, reinforcing Mike’s opinion that he’d made the right decision. “The tractor drove OK even though it needed a lot of work, but I was glad to get it home in one piece,” he recalls. “I then had to give a lot of thought to the restoration and, in the end, decided that the best option was to give it a full ground-up resto.”

The seating position and instruments were on a par with the models being offered by other leading manufacturers at the time. No weather protection in those days!

Restoration approach
Mike’s always been meticulous with his restorations and believes that proper planning and preparation are the keys to success. “I’ve found that there’s always a right way and a wrong way of doing things, and it’s far better to start as you mean to go on,” he said. “That way you usually end up saving both time and money.”

In practice, this meant stripping the bodywork, hydraulics and engine down to the bare bones. Although Mike did most of the work, he was ably assisted by David in his spare time. “I decided to keep a log of all the work done, and still haver that today. I’d had to wait a fair time before I was able to buy the Dexta, so we got started as soon as we could that August.”

Restoring an old tractor can be an expensive business, especially if the machine requires a lot of new parts. Fortunately for Mike, the Dexta’s clutch had already been replaced. “The previous owner had told me he’d fitted a new clutch during the previous year,” Mike said. “This wouldn’t have affected my decision to buy the Dexta. Once I began the strip-down, I did discover that that was indeed the case. Not only was this reassuring, but it certainly saved me a few bob, too!”

The Dexta evolved in an era when strength and durability were high on the priority list for tractor manufacturers.

According to Mike, a tractor’s bodywork can throw up some of the biggest restoration challenges, and this Dexta’s tinwork was no exception. “The rear mudguards were a real headache,” he explained. “They’d rotted all the way through, so I had to cut the bad sections out using a jigsaw.

“In my experience, they usually rotted when the water ran down the channels and, while I could have replaced the whole panels, I wanted to retain as much of the original tractor as possible, for authenticity’s sake. This meant I had to get some pieces of tin and bend it to the shape of the channel before using my MIG welder and finishing the repair. It was a lot of work but certainly worth it in the end.”

Painting help
When it finally came to painting the tractor, Mike was able to rely on some of his workmates at McConnels. “Most of the body and mechanical work I did in my own garage, but McConnels helped me out with the shot-blasting and priming,” he recalls. “The rest of the painting I did myself.”

The tractor taking part in a local ploughing match.

Most restorers come to rely on certain suppliers for their spare parts, and Mike is no exception. “I used the Fordson dealers Prince & Pugh for my spare parts back in the days when I was restoring the Dexta, but they have moved on and are no longer involved with tractors,” he said. “If I was doing the job today, I’d probably contact Agriline down in Bromsgrove, but they weren’t around back then. Carpenter Goodwin just down the road in Leominster have also helped me out in the past.”

It’s been almost 30 years since Mike restored the New Performance Super Dexta, and he’s still very fond of the tractor. He continues to do his own servicing and maintenance, and the Fordson has become part of the family. “Time certainly flies when you are having fun,” he laughed. “I’ve now turned 70 and David has grown up and is service manager at the local Land Rover dealership.

“I’m still working with tractors and that’s the main thing. Like most people, I’d like to live a long time and have an easy life! The more hours I can spend with my tractors, the better. And, as for the Dexta? Well, there aren’t many New Performance models still knocking around, and so I certainly intend to hang on to this one for the foreseeable future,” Mike smiled.

This feature comes from the latest issue of Tractor & Machinery, and you can get a money-saving subscription to this magazine simply by clicking HERE


Subscribe & Save today!

Subscribe to Tractor & Machinery today and pay just £3.44 an issue!